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I beg to move
That this Assembly notes the result of the referendum on European Union membership; and calls on the Executive to set out, in the immediate future, their response to the consequences of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
Mr Speaker, I thank you for allowing the motion. It is right that the first item of business in this Chamber since the referendum should be a discussion of the implications and consequences of what happened at the tail end of last week.
I note that Sam McBride, in the 'News Letter', leant on the words of W B Yeats to sum it up. Everything is "changed, changed utterly". I am not sure that that is right because I believe that what has actually happened is that we have entered an era of uncertainty, an uncertainty that will last years, not months.
There is only one certainty, and that is the result. The result is the result. Be in no doubt. We asked the people of the United Kingdom for their view, and the people of the United Kingdom gave us their view. It was to leave the European Union. The Ulster Unionist Party accepts that result.
The result is the result. There is no point in trying to say that it was a non-binding referendum and that Parliament is sovereign. Given the low esteem that many of us as elected politicians here and in other Chambers are held in by the people of the United Kingdom, the last thing we should do is say, "Tell us what you want us to do" and then ignore it and do what we want to do. No: the result is the result. We are on our way out of the European Union.
We have to accept that, but I believe that we should also acknowledge that, within Northern Ireland, 56% of the people who voted voted to remain in the United Kingdom. We must acknowledge that. The first question to the First Ministers is: how do they factor that in to how they will deal with the consequences of the referendum?
I may give way later, but I have a lot of progress to make.
David Cameron, as Prime Minister of all the people of the United Kingdom, asked for a "Remain" vote, did not get it and has indicated his intention to resign. Nicola Sturgeon, as First Minister of all the people of Scotland, asked for a "Remain" vote in Scotland, got it and, therefore, has a clear mandate to take to the negotiations that will involve the UK Government and the devolved institutions. Arlene Foster, as First Minister of Northern Ireland, asked for a Brexit vote and did not get it within Northern Ireland, so there is, I believe, a legitimate question to ask of the First Minister.
I said that I may give way later.
There is a legitimate question to ask of the First Minister when she goes into those negotiations. How does she balance her party political view for Brexit against the fact that 56% of the people who voted in Northern Ireland said, "Let us remain within the European Union"? I look forward to the First Minister's response to that.
This, however, is not about going over the result: the result is the result. It is about the implications and consequences of the result for the people of Northern Ireland. There are huge consequences, and perhaps some unintended ones. The first consequence for us is that we look to London and recognise the fact that, of the two parties that are capable of governing in Downing Street, neither has a leader with credibility any more. The Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, has indicated, as I said, his intention to stand down. I believe that, this morning, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, went to his leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and told him to stand down as leader of the Labour Party. We find ourselves with a certain political crisis.
The Member misunderstands the position of the Ulster Unionist Party, which I will come to during the course —
Mr Speaker, I was hoping that, after such a divisive campaign and with the eyes of Northern Ireland, perhaps of the world, on the Chamber this morning, we would have a thoughtful and respectful debate. I hope that we can still do that because —
I will not give way.
What are the implications and consequences? Let us start with the finances. Nobody is in any doubt that Northern Ireland, currently and for some time, has been a net beneficiary of European funding, not just for agriculture but for our voluntary and community sector, our universities —
I ask the Member to take his seat.
This debate, obviously, will have a fair amount of emotion from all sides of the House. I ask Members to be respectful to each other. That includes how they address each other and the titles they apply to Members. When it is quite clear that a Member is not going to take an intervention, I ask that that be respected by the Member seeking the intervention.
Mr Speaker, I ask you to reflect on the comments from Mr Allister who, I believe, accused me of "peddling falsehoods". I ask you to reflect on that and come back to us when you are ready.
It is not just about the Peace funds; we all agree that we have done well from them. It is about the competitive drawdown, the common agricultural policy, the single farm payment, universities and the community and voluntary sector. It is about our infrastructure, and we all agree that, to have a vibrant economy, we need to invest in that. I believe that I saw our Minister, Chris Hazzard, out in Brussels a few days ago, discussing the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), which we did very well with when my colleague Danny Kennedy was Minister for Regional Development. In the last Programme for Government, for the first time, we had a target for the competitive drawdown of European funds, and we matched it easily. I would have hoped that we were going to be much more competitive and ambitious in the next Programme for Government, but can we even compete for infrastructure funds? Over the remaining years, when the withdrawal is being negotiated, why would the European Union give us money for infrastructure projects that would benefit the United Kingdom for the next five, 10, 15 or 20 years? What about corporation tax — the big idea? What happens to corporation tax now? Is there an opportunity here to get it without a hit to the block grant, or has it gone for good? This is the sort of clarity that we seek from our First Ministers.
The Ulster Unionist position has been very clear —
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A previous statement from the Chair advised all Members that they should, at all times, refer to other Members by their correct and proper title. Do you judge it outwith that recommendation for the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party to use the term "First Ministers"? There is a First Minister and a deputy First Minister.
The Ulster Unionist position was that, on balance, Northern Ireland is better off in the European Union — not the United Kingdom, but Northern Ireland — with a UK Government arguing for further reform and a move back to free trade and away from political union. That is still our position.
On the money issue, when we discussed it as an executive, I took my pen and said, "If anybody in the room is prepared to take this pen and write a blank cheque that guarantees that Northern Ireland will not be one penny worse off in the event of Brexit, I will vote for Brexit." Nobody took that pen. I now ask whether the First Minister and the deputy First Minister will take that pen and guarantee our agriculture sector, universities, voluntary and community sector and everybody else who benefits from European Union money that they will not be a penny worse off. I will leave the pen there for a blank cheque to be signed.
What about the Barnett formula? What is the next —
I am not giving way. I have made the point now.
What about the Barnett formula? We know that some Brexiteers, such as Lord Owen, have made the point that the Barnett formula should go. What are the implications for Northern Ireland?
Then there is the border. Were we misinformed about the border and the common travel area? I notice that the Taoiseach has said that he will do his "best" to maintain the common travel arrangements; not that he guarantees that they will stay but that he will do his "best". What is the plan in the Executive Office for the border and immigration? What about the future of the United Kingdom? I heard Members say that there is no way that Scotland will press for another vote on independence. I heard Members say that it will not happen because the price of oil has plummeted and Scotland cannot afford it. I said that I did not want my fingerprints on the button that Nicola Sturgeon will press to secure a second referendum. My fingerprints are not on that button, but the fingerprints of the leader of the DUP are, and she will press it.
What is the future for Northern Ireland as nationalism reacts with anger to the fact that those outwith this part of the United Kingdom have voted for Brexit? I love the United Kingdom. I remain convinced that we, in Northern Ireland, are all better off as part of the United Kingdom. I want an assurance from the First Minister and the deputy First Minister that they will work tirelessly to persuade the people that we are still better off in the United Kingdom, even in the event of this Brexit.
What happened over the weekend was an exercise in democracy. The people of the United Kingdom, from every corner of the United Kingdom, were, for the first time in 40 years, given their chance to have their say on the continuation of our country's membership of the European Union.
I think it is fair to look at the opposing sides in this campaign. On one side was Goldman Sachs, big business, the EU, the IMF and the political establishment of this country. They were convinced that it was in the bag, convinced that the case for staying in the European Union was so self-evident that no person could ever dare to vote against it. Well, they got their answer on Friday morning. The ordinary people of this country, who for years have been sneered at and ignored by the political and media establishment of this country, their values held in contempt and simple things like love of country held up as foolishness, had their say.
I knew that it would be an uphill climb in my own constituency, and I said that I would be pleased if we got above 28% for "Leave". In the end, we got 30.5%, and I knew when I saw the record turnouts in places like Donegall Pass; Sandy Row; the Donegall Road; the Woodstock Road — even in the Braniel, where I live — that ordinary people, who do not come out and vote at election time, were fired-up to come out and vote in this referendum, because they were fed up with being ignored by the media and political elite; fed up with being treated with contempt.
Since the result was announced, I have heard some of the worst denigration of our older population. It is disgraceful to hear people say that older people should not have the vote, or that they have betrayed the future of the young. It is because of the effort of the older people of this country that the young have a future to look forward to and to treat them with such contempt is disgraceful.
I enjoyed the campaign. The "Leave" campaign in Northern Ireland attracted —
No. I will give way later.
It was a cross-section of people drawn from my own party, the TUV and UKIP, and, I am delighted to say, a good many Ulster Unionist Members were out with us, making the case for leaving the European Union.
We have heard that this is a time for seriousness. Well, seriousness requires that we have discussion and reasoned argument in the Chamber; we do not run off to 'The Irish News' saying that the Union is under threat, because we were on the losing side of the referendum, as some have chosen to do. The reality is that the people of this country were offered a choice, and they made their choice. I say this to those who were on the opposing side: had the vote gone the other way, I would have had to take it on the chin and move on. I know what it is like to lose an election, and I know what it is like to be on the losing side of a referendum. Those who just assumed that the people would do as they were told should accept the verdict of the people.
Over the last 48 hours, we have heard all sorts of crazy and interesting ideas on how the people's verdict can be overturned. We had a Labour MP saying that Parliament should simply ignore it because it was only an advisory and non-binding referendum, and I have no doubt that we will hear some of that today.
I am very pleased to get the chance to speak in this debate. There is quite a lot of political difference already on the issues that were debated and the outcome of the referendum. One thing that does unify us is that we are left with an impending mess as a consequence of the vote that was taken last Thursday.
It is the responsibility of all of us to try to navigate our way out of the mess we find ourselves in. Whether one accepts the result of the referendum or not, had the vote been to remain in Europe we would not face the huge degree of uncertainty and potential difficulty that we now face. Regardless of whether people wanted to leave or stay, we are now presented with a serious political, economic and social difficulty that we have to chart our way through. There is no clarity from those who led the "Leave" campaign or, indeed, the British Government on how we will navigate our way through this political upheaval.
At a local level — I was involved in the campaign in my constituency — constituents are angry and bewildered. They are angry that their future and their children's future will be decided not by themselves but by people living on a neighbouring island. That democratic deficit and lack of self-determination is clearly another story that we will return to.
In my area, Newry and Dundalk were two busy ports and market towns located centrally on the east coast of Ireland with a shared hinterland pre partition. Their economic potential was sundered by partition and surrendered for the best part of 70 years. It was only with the advent of the single market and with specific European funds designed to remove the hard border and deal with the negative impact of partition — funds like INTERREG, Peace, the European social fund and some of the rural development programmes — that communities in that border area began to recover and look forward with some optimism to a better economic future, having been on the periphery of two states for so long. They are fearful now and somewhat bewildered about their future.
We have a responsibility collectively, regardless of our position in the referendum campaign or of how we see its outcome and in the absence of any sense of direction from London, to chart the best course for the people we represent to give clarity and some direction. That involves not just the Executive — obviously, the Executive have a key role in that, and I look forward to hearing from the First Minister later and, no doubt, other Ministers as the days and weeks progress — but the Opposition and all of us, because we have a collective responsibility in this institution. In the absence of any sense of clarity and direction elsewhere, the people of the Six Counties certainly and those across Ireland are looking for some direction here and, indeed, in Dublin.
We also have a responsibility to engage with the Irish Government on this. They will obviously be key players in negotiating matters relating Europe on this island, and the decision undoubtedly has a negative economic impact on them. Given the nature of our institutional arrangements, we have to ensure that we have a close working relationship with the Irish Government and, indeed, with Scotland, who find themselves in the same position as us, having decided in their jurisdiction to remain but now finding that they will, against their wishes, be out of the European Union in the near future. We specifically have a responsibility to engage with the sectors that will be most concerned: the business sector, the community and voluntary sector, farming, trade unions and other people across society who were heavily reliant on the European Union and some of the funds that it provided in their own businesses.
The clear majority in our vote in the Six Counties to remain gives us a strong hand in the negotiations that lie ahead. The British Government will be involved in those negotiations, we need to be involved in them and the Irish Government need to be involved. We have specifically expressed our wishes on this, and that gives us a strong hand with the British Government attempting to ride roughshod over the impacts of this on the people we represent.
We need a common purpose. Let us have the debate. People can argue the toss about which side they were on and the outcome, but, when the dust settles, we need a common purpose. We need to row in behind our Executive and act collectively with all the political parties here, with our friends south of the border, with friends in Scotland and, particularly, with friends in Europe to get the best possible outcome from this for the people we represent.
I hope that some of the comments we have heard from sedentary positions are not a sign of how this debate will develop, and I do not just mean the debate in here. Everybody in here who calls themselves a democrat should recognise that people here in the North of Ireland voted for our position within the European Union to remain the same. People in Scotland did that as well. Young people everywhere formed a coalition to have a positive relationship with the European Union. People here in particular, in Northern Ireland, understand the benefits that that has given us.
I spoke to a great number of people on Friday in my constituency, which is surrounded on three sides by a border, who were devastated, scared and extremely worried about what comes next. You see posters all round Northern Ireland — I have to drive past a load of them coming here in the morning — telling you that there will be £350 million more for the health service and all that stuff, but, of course, the "Leave" side is now rowing back on those great commitments about the health service, immigration and all the other plans that it made to —
First, I do not know what you are talking about. I made a commitment to speak positively about the European Union throughout the campaign, and I think that we did. We know the benefits of it. The "Leave" campaign, however, is now rowing back on all its big claims. We told them the whole way through the campaign that that would happen. The notion that you will have access to the single market while controlling immigration is utter nonsense. It is nonsense, and it is proven to be nonsense in places such as Norway and Switzerland. There were a lot of lies told, but people in Northern Ireland saw through them. As democrats, we are standing by the people here who decided that we are not being dragged out of the European Union by the right wing of the Tory party or anybody else who does not want to listen when told about the benefits of the European Union.
The Member says that he is not going to be dragged out of the European Union. I do not know what the question was on the ballot paper that he used, but on the ballot paper that I used the question was clear: do I want the United Kingdom to leave or to stay? The question was never "Do you want Northern Ireland to stay?". The only autonomous answer is the answer that came from the entirety of the people of the United Kingdom. Is he going to accept that, or is he not?
"No" is the answer, because I stand by people —
I stand by people on this island —
You see? Gracious in victory as usual. I stand by people on this island and in this country who do not want to leave the European Union. One minute we are told that Northern Ireland is a nation, and then the UK is a nation: I am not sure what people are trying to tell us, but people in Northern Ireland —
No, I have given way enough.
People in Northern Ireland told us that they wanted to remain in the European Union, and we will look for every device possible to make sure that that happens, and I hope that others join us in doing so.
I know all about democracy, and some people in here need to learn about democracy. I remember a referendum that was held on this island not all that long ago, where people voted for the Good Friday Agreement. The Member who is shouting from his seat and some of the Members across the Chamber who were shouting from their seats earlier did not recognise that the people of this island voted for the Good Friday Agreement. What did the Good Friday Agreement mean? It meant that people from my persuasion who wanted to see a united Ireland were able to democratically argue for and democratically work towards that goal. We all accepted that the principle of consent was key to that. Let me tell you this, Mr Speaker: the people of the North of Ireland are not giving their consent to being dragged out of the European Union, and we stand by them on that.
Let me just deal with the point that the Secretary of State made about the principle of consent and the Good Friday Agreement. I do not think that this is the right time for a border poll, because I believe that we should have a border poll that we can actually win. Our duty today —
Do you not want to hear? No? Our duty today is to deal with the issues that face us right now. The Secretary of State has got it wrong: just because people on the nationalist side say that they agree with the principle of consent and the Good Friday Agreement, that does not mean that they give consent to our position within the United Kingdom. We will continue to democratically work towards changing that.
Right now, we are not about to be dragged out of the European Union against our will. I would love to hear the DUP explain to me today how it will enforce a border on this island and how it will control the freedom of movement of people into the British Isles. How will you do that? I do not think that you can, and I think that you have voted for something that you have not really thought through.
Look at what is happening in Scotland and here; people are beginning to see that the next step is further integration across this island, working —
— together with our unionist neighbours to begin the process of working in the European context and delivering for our people here, not being dragged out against our will by Sunderland, Surrey or anywhere else.
I ask that Members be listened to with respect and that they be allowed to make their arguments across the Chamber. I also ask that Members, when speaking, address all their remarks through the Chair.
We need to acknowledge that the vote across the UK was to leave the European Union. For me, that is a regrettable decision, but I acknowledge and accept it. It means that the UK will now begin a process of negotiation that will fundamentally change not just our relationship with the EU but the EU itself and, potentially, our relationships in the United Kingdom. To do otherwise would leave an electorate that was already clearly angry and disaffected even more angry and disaffected.
It is true that Parliament has primacy on these matters; it is also true that referendums are merely advisory. However, no Government should ever go to the people, ask their view on a matter and then simply ignore the view that they are given by the people. That does not mean that, in future, when the new arrangements are made and are in place, it would not be equally appropriate for any Government to ask the people whether they are happy with the new arrangements, but, as we stand today, that is where we are.
We have to acknowledge — the "Leave" campaign needs to acknowledge this — the sharp divide that has opened up between England and Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland on the issue. There has to be some reflection of the clearly expressed wish of the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland to remain at the heart of the European Union. That must be reflected in any arrangements negotiated by the Government for the future. To ignore that, and to fail to seek an accommodation of those views, is to place the future of the United Kingdom in peril. I am surprised at the rather blasé approach that some unionists are taking to that risk, given that they are those most invested in retaining the United Kingdom.
I have no intentions —
I will not give way.
I have no intentions of taking lectures from the party opposite on how to accept losing or, indeed, winning elections and votes with any measure of good grace. Whether it be the Good Friday Agreement, a democratic decision on flags on City Hall, or many others that would take too long to list, that party does not have a good record when it comes to good grace in democratic decision-making.
I do not want to reopen a referendum debate today. We have, in the context of a very close and divisive result, to look at how we now provide the sort of leadership that will get us to a place of stability. The continuing instability is a threat to our economy, to social cohesion in this society, and to our future as a regional economy in Europe whilst clearly potentially being no longer in the EU. Each of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom now has special arrangements and relationships with the Westminster Parliament, and the EU will be irrevocably changed by the departure of the UK. In that context, everything is open for discussion. Therefore, acknowledging in any agreements the clear votes to remain in the EU from Scotland and Northern Ireland is not beyond the capacity of a strong and coherent negotiating team. My question to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister is clear: can they provide that coherent negotiating team on behalf of Northern Ireland, given that the majority of people here wished to remain whilst the position of the First Minister's party was that it wished to leave? That is a genuine question that I place before them and ask them to consider today.
We need to reassure business and people in Northern Ireland about the future and maximise certainty. That reassurance is not coming from Westminster, which has now dissolved into the chaos that we were told was scaremongering but is now the news. I ask that we see strong leadership in Northern Ireland, not just for business or for the people in Northern Ireland but for those EU members —
I am grateful to the Member for giving way. I do not recall, at any point during the referendum campaign, those who argued for "Remain" telling us that we should stay in for fear that David Cameron might resign or that Jeremy Corbyn would be subject to a coup. You referenced the trouble at Westminster; those are entirely internal party political matters for the Tories and Labour.
Let us be honest; the referendum was entirely an internal party political matter for the Conservative Party. We all knew that when we voted; we knew that that was what it was about. Frankly, those who argued that it was about any higher principle need their heads examined. If we are being honest, the reassurance that I want today is for EU nationals and, indeed, other migrants who live and work in our communities and who make a contribution to society, because they feel vulnerable and afraid after this vote. I want reassurance for them that they are still welcome and that we are still an open and tolerant democracy —
I find it ironic that the proposer of the motion is none other than Mr Nesbitt, particularly after reading today's newspaper and his comments about people considering their positions. Mr Cameron called a referendum and Mr Cameron lost that referendum in spite of throwing everything, including the kitchen sink of Downing Street, at it. There were many inaccurate and untrue statements which the public, wisely, chose to ignore. By Mr Nesbitt's logic, Carwyn Jones should also resign, but he did not mention that this morning. Indeed, in his own Strangford constituency, 5,000 more people voted to leave than to remain. So, by his own logic, he has lost his own constituency and he should resign.
We go back to the principle of the standing of our First Minister. Our First Minister went to the country just over a month ago and received a vote of 207,000, which was an increased mandate. Mr Nesbitt went to the country and received 87,000 votes, which was a decreased mandate. Mr Nesbitt managed to take the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party when it was at rock bottom and take it down further. He has been grovelling about —
It is to do with the challenge by Mr Nesbitt to the First Minister. Nonetheless, he has been grovelling about on his stomach in the dust and now wants to spit it out at us this morning, having failed, and failed miserably. People had a reason for voting not to stay in Europe. Indeed, most of the former leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party voted not to stay in the European Union, including past leaders Tom Elliot and David Trimble. Mr Nesbitt does not command the support of his own party.
Does it worry the Member or his party that Mike Nesbitt seems to be suggesting, because there is the threat of a Scottish independence referendum for the second time, that unionism should act in a different way? Surely, that is nationalism dictating to unionism. Does that not show that the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party is better suited to the role of a commentator than to the role of leader?
It is for the people to decide on what role he has. I think that the people decided very convincingly at the Assembly election, but he decided to cling on to his position and become leader of the Opposition as a result. Ironically, there were all these people who were saying that we would break up the Union if we voted "Leave", but the nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all wanted to vote "Remain". The unionists who joined them — the Ulster Unionists — joined the nationalists and, indeed, the republicans to say vote "Remain", when clearly the people voted for something different.
In Northern Ireland, the DUP lifted 207,000 votes at the Assembly election and 350,000 people voted to leave the European Union. Quite clearly, many Ulster Unionists walked away from the guidance and leadership of Mr Nesbitt to back the leadership of the DUP. If any leader is considering their position today in this Chamber, it is the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, who has been exposed and found wanting. He failed miserably in the Assembly election, and he has failed to provide good, solid leadership to the people of the Ulster Unionist Party over the course of this referendum.
In the little time he has left, will the Member take some time to address the concerns of people in my constituency, in border constituencies and in every other constituency across Northern Ireland today? All I am hearing is an internal unionist argument.
Fair enough; you are hearing an internal unionist argument. I will complete that before I touch on what you had to say. We are a one-nation United Kingdom and that one nation has made a decision. It is for Parliament — our sovereign Parliament at Westminster — to enact the democratically expressed will of the people of this United Kingdom. If we split Scotland, as some people want to suggest, are we going to split Northern Ireland as well? It was very evident that many constituencies in Northern Ireland voted to leave. This nation will be staying together and Nicola Sturgeon will fail in what she is doing.
Things such as the border issues need to be discussed, and we will work very closely with the Republic of Ireland Government to ensure that there is as little change as possible as a result of this decision and that people will be able to enjoy all the benefits.
We need to divest ourselves of the regulations that Europe has imposed on us. That will give business and farmers and many other people great opportunities to move forward, deal with the rest of the world and take this challenge on in a very positive way.
Whatever else the United Kingdom is, it is not united, either in its desires for the future of the nations that make up that current United Kingdom or around socio-economic policies, race policies or anything else. The recent referendum debate in Britain has shown the rifts in society there and here, so the term "united" does not fit this debate.
I know that Members on the opposite Benches and those beside them traditionally refer to the term "United Kingdom", but let not anyone in the Chamber believe that there is any unity of purpose as a result of the referendum decision made last week. No matter how you look at this group of islands, they are divided like they have never been divided before. We have to recognise that the EU referendum result is the biggest single social and economic shock to hit the island of Ireland since partition. Regardless of where your allegiances lie, whether they lie with the Union or, as mine and those of my party colleagues do, with the reunification of Ireland, we have to deal with it.
"calls on the Executive to set out, in the immediate future, their response to the consequences of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union."
The Executive's hands are somewhat tied on this, because they will not be able to work out a response until the Conservative Party sorts out its internal squabbles, appoints a leader and a Prime Minister and, as is quite likely, a Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the very near future. The Executive and the First and deputy First Minister are somewhat constrained in what they can do, but I have no doubt that, despite their differences on this and numerous other issues, they will work to do their very best for this society.
They will do their very best for this economy. They will do their very best for the people whom they represent here in the North.
I do not think that it will cause newsflashes around the world that Martin McGuinness is an Irish republican and Arlene Foster is a unionist. They are disunited on that, but they have shown that they can put their differences aside and work for the betterment of society. That is what is required now.
I will, if I can, in one moment. What is required now is leadership.
I return to the referendum and the uncertainties that it has thrown up to us. There is always certainty in uncertainty. We can now be certain that the £350 million a week that was promised to the health service is not going to the health service. Some of those who opposed EU membership were opposed to immigration. We can be certain that emigration and immigration will continue. We will not be able to stop immigration. Negotiations will have to take to place with the European Union. If they want to trade into the European Union, they will have to do what other nations on the European continent are doing, and the free movement of people is part of that. Why is the free movement of people part of that? It is because, despite the fears that were promoted by some in the "Leave" campaign, immigration is actually good for the economy.
I want to turn to our brothers and sisters from European states and those from other ethnic minorities who already live here. I would hope to send out a very unified message from the Assembly that their contribution to our economy is welcomed. Their continued contribution to our economy is absolutely necessary, and we, as an Assembly, an Executive and political leaders, defend their right to be here and welcome them here with open arms.
In conclusion, the time ahead will be very difficult because the principle of trickle-down economics, which many in the House — I am one of them — argue does not work in the method that it should work and does not deliver for those at the bottom of the stream, works in quite a different way. The losses that were seen on the stock markets across the globe on Friday will have a trickle-down impact. Who will pay for those losses? It will not be big business; we learned that from the last recession. It will not be any of the big businesses, whichever side of the argument they were on last week. It will be the ordinary person on the street who will pay for those big losses on the stock market last week. Our Budget and economy will be impacted, which is why it is vital that the First and deputy First Minister work together. I am confident that they will. I hope that I can be confident that the Opposition will work with them.
I welcome the vote of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union project. Over the last number of days, including today in the Chamber, I have listened to and read of the hysteria of those in the "Remain" camp. First, let me be clear: we all knew the terms of this referendum. We voted individually as citizens of the United Kingdom on the position of the United Kingdom. Those were the terms accepted by all sides, including the "Remain" side. It is fundamentally dishonest for some in the "Remain" camp to attempt to change the parameters retrospectively when the result did not go their way.
Secondly, it is offensive and unacceptable that there are those in the "Remain" camp, particularly elected representatives, in Northern Ireland who try to portray those "Leave" voters as racist, stupid, uninformed, misinformed or uneducated. This is an issue of respect about the outcome. Today, we have already heard a patronising view towards those who voted "Leave". They may not be the commentators, the journalists, the Establishment or the left-wing liberals who dominate the public narrative, but there is a clear message: the so-called little people have spoken. The oft-silent majority across the United Kingdom have made their feelings clear.
The mouse has roared and become the lion, and millions of decent, upstanding people have all the lefty liberals in a spin. The reality is that Europe had become too detached and too unaccountable, yet, in that context, there was an ever-growing agenda of increased scope and remit. <BR/>There is an irony about the position of Mike Nesbitt. He criticises others when he represents neither the view of unionism in Northern Ireland nor, we suspect, even the views of the Ulster Unionist Party.
I know that my party leader, the First Minister of this country, will fight her hardest for the best deal for Northern Ireland, the best deal for farmers, the best deal for the economy and the best deal for our public services and all in Northern Ireland.
Thank you very much for those comments. I apologise for coming late to the debate. Many representatives of unionism and many of my constituents who voted "Remain" have communicated with me how concerned they are with what has been going on. It is not just a question of unionism in one place —
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I stand here today to give assurances to the people of Northern Ireland — I know that other Members will do so as well — that the First Minister will fight for the best deal for Northern Ireland in the renegotiations. She will roll up her sleeves and fight fearlessly for all in Northern Ireland, including those who decided to vote "Remain" and those who decided to vote "Leave", and I want people to be reassured of that today.
This is a new dawn for the United Kingdom. There is of course much work to be done and much negotiation, but there is also much opportunity. Today, as I stand here, I am still a European. People need not to listen to the hysteria but to buckle down and look at the opportunities that this provides for us.
We stand here today free to negotiate and build a new and recalibrated relationship on the world stage, including with the European Union, and a better deal for an independent and sovereign United Kingdom on the world stage.
Our message today is one of hope, not despair. People need to keep calm and listen to what is being said. Do not listen to the hysteria. We should not fear change but embrace the opportunities that will come from removing from our wrists the shackles of this failed European Union project.
Our economic and political environment fundamentally changed with last week's referendum result. On Friday, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, said:
"The Bank of England has put in place extensive contingency plans."
Trying to calm the market free fall in the pound, he also said:
"we are well prepared for this."
Mr Carney showed a steady hand and provided reassurance to the markets. The question is this: are we similarly well prepared? I hope that we are but fear that comments from the deputy First Minister suggest otherwise. When asked what our contingency plans were, he clearly said that there were none. His only contribution was to add more uncertainty with a proposal for an unnecessary and unwinnable border poll.
As we move into a period of economic turbulence and political uncertainty, it is foolhardy in the extreme to seek to add further instability, especially when, as officials recently told the Finance Committee, Northern Ireland's deficit with the Treasury is currently £9·2 billion, making any prospect of Irish unity an economic non-starter. The bottom line is that a UK-wide referendum vote was taken, a decision was made and we now need to move forward as a United Kingdom, not component parts, to obtain the best deal for our country.
On Friday, the First Minister said that we needed a period of calm, stability and leadership, but she also stated that there was no contingency plan. Surely it is a bizarre situation when the First Minister has not planned for the outcome that she campaigned for, especially when the result was going to be close and uncertain. Where is the Northern Ireland Executive's contingency plan? We are all aware that we have received billions from the EU in recent years, and there are billions still to come during the next Budget phase until 2020. There is £1·2 billion in CAP payments and rural development, a further billion from the current round of regional development funds and millions more from the social fund and Peace moneys. Some of the funding might be covered by additional budget from Westminster, but some might not. At this stage, no one knows. The expectation is that it will be two years, at least, before the full ramifications become clear, but, again, no one knows.
What we do know is that we will be impacted by two issues, both of which are outside our control. First, a significantly weaker pound will reduce the value of EU payments in the short term to the Executive and to funding recipients like our farmers. There is an element of swings and roundabouts of course, but the net impact is likely to dampen growth and investment in the short term, thereby reducing the revenue generated by Northern Ireland. Estimates of the impact of the EU exit on Northern Ireland suggest a 3% reduction in GDP. Secondly, we must also look at our debt and the potential for increased costs to fund that debt. Let us also bear in mind that the Executive is indebted to the tune of over £1,200 per capita compared to, for example, £530 per capita in Scotland.
On Saturday, Moody's downgraded the UK's long-term issuer and debt ratings to "negative" from "stable". Its analysis is that:
"the negative effect from lower economic growth will outweigh the fiscal savings from the UK no longer having to contribute to the EU budget."
This reduced credit rating will result in higher borrowing costs for government, businesses and households in the longer term.
We have a challenging financial environment that is exacerbated by the failure of the previous Executive to mend the roof while the sun shone. That failure to reform and drive change in our public sector means that, unlike the Chancellor this morning, it is difficult for us to state that we come to this from a position of strength economically and with a fundamentally strong economy. We need a coordinated response from the Executive that will produce a plan to protect our local economy and public services. We need reassurance and leadership to calm markets and encourage investment. We need an emergency plan that can ensure that Northern Ireland's voice is heard at Westminster and throughout Europe and that is clear in its demands to protect our funding streams and to put in place policies to facilitate our businesses to take advantage of any opportunities that arise.
As I said, we need reassurance and leadership, both of which have been in short supply since last Thursday's momentous decision. I urge the Executive to show some urgency and some leadership and start to plan for this new economic and political environment.
As party spokesperson for childcare, children and young people, I can only describe the referendum result as heart-wrenching. The vast majority — three quarters — of 18- to 25-year-olds voted to remain. It appears that Thursday was the day young people proved that they are much wiser than many others. I therefore want to express solidarity with young people right across Britain, who have been let down by inter-party rivalry in a campaign which did not have their interests at its heart. Again, this raises the urgent need to extend the vote to 16-year-olds. Their level of engagement in the Scottish referendum was unprecedented. If their vote was good enough then, why not now? Thursday's result will impact most not on those who are 50-plus and who voted in their thousands to leave but on our children and our children's children, as their opportunities to study, live, love and work in another 27 countries while gaining invaluable life experiences —
I will not give way. That has been snatched away from them. Young people have been denied opportunities, experiences and friendships. That is certainly not a legacy to be proud of.
Linkages between universities will now be severed. The ERASMUS school exchange programme will be called into question, and those young people from our neighbouring countries who have taken a brave step to live and work here now face huge levels of uncertainty. Let there be no doubt: young people will disproportionately bear the brunt, and the effects will be long-lasting. I personally have been contacted by friends who are living, working and studying in Europe and widening their skills, who now say that there really is no point in coming home. If unemployment is concerning now, the outlook is increasingly bleak. Our talented and skilled young people will stay away when we need them to return home most.
In my constituency of Upper Bann, community projects funded by EU money will now collapse, with those in the pipeline suffering a devastating blow. On Friday, I met representatives from NICEM, which represents the ethnic minority community of Upper Bann. Their lives have been thrown into disarray. Families are unsure where their children will go to school in September and if they will have a job in a month's time. Families, who will endure countless sleepless nights, now need leaders to step up and reassure them.
In the coming days and weeks, Upper Bann will welcome Syrian refugee families into its communities. I implore my constituents to extend a warm welcome because, sadly, the whole debate has given rise to the type of poisonous politics that we should never have witnessed. The first sign of contagion was evident with the questions of citizenship that were posed by a Fianna Fáil TD in the South.
As Mr Stalford pointed out, the civil and human rights we enjoy were fought hard for, but they now lie in the hands of far right Tories who are hell-bent on scrapping the Human Rights Act.
I am most concerned about the unemployment rate here in the North and the fact that this means that many of our youth now face a dire future.
To conclude, this is not the future our young people voted for. If we do nothing, we will greaten the injustice. I call on all those across Britain and Ireland who favoured "Remain" to come together and explore options pertaining to a continuing relationship with our friends in the European Union
My first reaction to the result of the EU referendum was to welcome it, and I think an awful lot of people across Northern Ireland will have done the same. My second reaction was that people need to take a breath. People need to relax, and people need to calm down. Yes, we have made a significant decision; yes, we have made a momentous decision; and, yes, there will be huge change in front of us, but I believe that can be positive change. By the way, I say to Members that they are very foolish if they think there would be no change if we had stayed in the European Union. There is certainly no certainty about remaining within that block.
Some mentioned the uncertainty. Some mentioned the stock markets, and it is important to note, of course, that they are no worse off than they have been at certain points over the last number of months, but I am not surprised there has been some volatility —
I thank the Member for giving way. Does he dismiss as "prophets of doom" those businesses that are trading with the US and that have found that their costs have risen by 10% over the weekend?
I would say that there are many people, especially those in the agriculture community, who will be very pleased about exports and the benefits the change in the pound will have.
People mention —
I obviously completely agree with what the Member said.
People also mentioned the uncertainty that could come as a result of the change we have made by voting to leave the European Union. There will be uncertainty. Do you know why? We are getting control back. There will be decisions we will have to make about agriculture, trade, borders, immigration and our money. We now have decisions to make because we have that control back. Those decisions were previously taken by other people and were dictated to us by other people. We now have the choice to make about what we do in those areas. We get freedom with the result. With that freedom comes responsibility, and with that freedom comes the power to decide for ourselves. I welcome that we will have an opportunity now to make decisions for ourselves.
(Madam Principal Deputy Speaker [Ms Ruane] in the Chair)
We also need to accept the result. I have to say I was very disappointed with what Mr Eastwood said about young people. The argument that has been trotted out over the last number of days is that, because greater numbers of young people voted to remain in the EU, in some way their votes are worth more or should be given greater weight. We have democracy in this country. We have one man and one vote, and I thought that is something that the Member would welcome.
I will not give way. My time is going, and I have already given way a couple of times.
We are a part of the UK, and we have voted to leave. Those who are calling for a second referendum are only injecting uncertainty into the future. It is also, by the way, a smack in the face for those who have decided to leave, and those are the people who so often feel ignored by the elites in this country.
So we have time to prepare; we have two years. We know that our First Minister and deputy First Minister will work with Brussels and Westminster to ensure that we are in a good position as we negotiate our way outside of the European Union. Although there has been so much negativity around this decision, I believe now is the time to embrace the possibilities that come with us leaving the European Union. We have decided to leave a bloc of countries that stifles jobs, hampers trade and hurts agriculture — and, by the way, we have paid for the pleasure of doing all of that. We are now in a position where we can march forward and be stronger than ever before. I believe in the creativity of our people, I believe in their hard work, I believe in their industry and I believe in our ability to push the boundaries and make further progress for future generations.
Thank you for giving way. I know that he addressed some of the things I said. I will maybe not go into that now, but, for the record, I do not believe that the vote of anybody, no matter what age they are or what background they are from, should be worth more than anybody else's. That has been our position since our foundation. Maybe a wee look into history would be useful for the Member. I ask him to tell me: how much of the money that you are telling us is going to be saved by not being members of the European Union is going to have to be ploughed into the banks, which are publicly owned and which have lost fortunes upon fortunes in the last couple of days?
I know that we are going to have an awful lot more money back now for us to spend in the way that we want. We are going to have that freedom, and we are now going to have that control. I welcome the result of the referendum, and I know that the First Minister and deputy First Minister will work to ensure that we get a good deal. I believe that we have very good days ahead because of the possibilities and opportunities that leaving the EU will afford us.
For those I have been speaking to over the weekend, the overwhelming emotions are still shock and anxiety. As much as the party across wants to gloss over the arguments and myth-making of the last few months, for something this major —
I am going to get under way.
For something this major, we are entitled to ask who did this, and why. As an Assembly, it is our job to chart some sort of a course and to play the hand that we have been dealt, not just for the people who voted "Remain", but for all those people who are going to be affected by this. That includes people who were too young to vote — I am not saying that a younger person's vote is worth more than anybody else's — and the tens of thousands of people from the European Union who have come here, work hard, pay into our system, did not get a vote and have been scapegoated for every problem of the world.
We warned about the carnival of reaction that would follow Brexit, and we are seeing it now. We are seeing market instability, we are seeing the beginnings of job loss announcements and we are seeing the two UK Government parties essentially setting themselves on fire. The polls show —
As a question and a degree of clarification, the figure that we were talking about around the instability, which was brought by the other Member, is now £260 billion and rising. That is a lot more than £8·5 billion.
I am going to get to your points, but those who set themselves up as defenders of the Union and the empire should look at the polls in Scotland and be very careful about what they have wished for.
Will the Member sit down, please?
I am going to make a few points.
The Member has had his time; the Member can sit down.
I do not know what you are laughing at. You have lost this. Those who led —
Those who led the "Leave" campaign have gone AWOL. Your friends are popping up in the media to roll back on a lot of the spoofs that they put out over the last few months on extra money to the NHS, the ending of free movement of people and when article 50 would be triggered. As the Member has said, the quarter of a trillion that has had to be pumped into standing up the pound today represents 20 years of EU contributions. The Members across talk about the disenfranchised and the forgotten. How are those people going to feel when they find out that they were lied to and that their opportunity and financial stability were thrown away for a handful of magic sovereignty beans? There is now no plan.
No, I will not because I have given way for quite some time.
There is now no plan, and it is a dereliction of duty for the First Minister of Northern Ireland to say that, despite there being no plan, we will wash up the same creek that the UK Government find themselves in without a paddle. This result was a leap into the unknown, and people here knew that. A majority of people wanted to stay in Europe and have the stability, the opportunity and the cooperation that it offers. We have to try to get that.
The DUP refuses to accept the democratic will of the people, 70% of whom voted for the Good Friday Agreement, and the DUP refuses to accept that a majority in the Assembly and a majority in the UK support equal marriage. You choose which issues to veto. The DUP said that the majority in Scotland did not vote for independence last time — that vote is smaller than the majority that you got — but that that majority is somehow decisive and settled while this majority is not. You cannot pick and choose on these things.
Members wanting to make this a green-and-orange issue is another dereliction of duty. We also need a Government that represents everybody here and not party interests, and I think that knee-jerk calls for a border poll are the last thing that we need. We have seen over the last few months the atavistic passions that that raises in people, including people without a history of recent violent extremism, and a woman, an MP and a young mum is dead because of that. We are too fragile to have that sort of instability. We spent the last four months telling you that "Leave" was a leap into the unknown and so was a border poll, but I will tell you this: the relationship between moderate nationalists and moderate unionists in the United Kingdom is fundamentally and recklessly altered. The social democratic benefits, like the National Health Service and stability and tolerance, are now on their way out or are being taken out. The principle of consent that we all adhere to in the Good Friday Agreement has been breached. The constitutional status of Northern Ireland cannot change without the —
No, the Member is going to get through some of her own points.
Whatever your views on the logic of Scottish unity, they did their homework, and we have not done our homework on maxing out devolution or on Irish unity yet. We need to do that, but forcing that instability on people would be reckless in the extreme. On how we move forward, let us not forget that we have the most imaginative constitutional settlement possibly anywhere in the world: it allows people here to be British or Irish or both as they so choose, and you cannot just write that away. Good political and legal minds wrote that while the party across was marching up and down the driveway, taking no part in the solutions, but solutions can be found. Later today, we are to discuss the Budget and how we get corporation tax, which is the basket that we are putting all our eggs in, when every single foreign direct investor has said that they wanted us stable, they wanted us skilled, and they wanted us as a gateway to Europe. Those on the left who put their ideological purity over public services and people have forfeited the right to complain about the hardship that the block grant being dumped will bring.
I am not given to quoting poetry, but I will in the last. Yeats said:
"All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."
He also said, "the centre cannot hold".
We have heard a lot today, and we have heard a lot over the weekend since this poll took place. People do not like it when the little people speak, and, when people are given their democratic right, there is something infinitely wrong with that, particularly from those opposite. It will soon get to the stage, I suppose, where there will be sections of our community and our great nation who will not be allowed to vote because they might not do it in the way that people want them to. The little people have spoken, and I must say that I welcome the decision that they have taken. Those who are confused today are confusing themselves, because let it be loudly stated that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. This was not a referendum in Northern Ireland; it was a referendum of all the people of the United Kingdom.
I listened to Ms Hanna, and she came very close to saying what had been said by the "Remain" camp. What did it promise us if we voted to leave? A third world war, an emergency Budget, and poverty would be our lot for the rest of our lives. They have absolutely no confidence in themselves, no confidence in the country in which they live, and they just want to play it down all the time. Mr Nesbitt has still failed to tell us which part of the Ulster Unionist Party he speaks for. Does he speak for Tom Elliott MP, does he speak for Lord Rogan, does he speak for Councillor McGimpsey? Tell us, which section of the party do you speak for?
I will let you in later. I have heard you long enough.
The EU referendum was a momentous democratic moment for the United Kingdom. The decision to leave is, without question, one of the biggest political moments that any of us have experienced. For me, the decision to leave is the right one for the United Kingdom. For me, the decision to leave could not have been better.
I believe that the United Kingdom will not only survive outside the European Union but, in fact, will flourish. We have left a shrinking EU for a better place in the world. We no longer have to put up with the undemocratic nature of the European Union. Thankfully, we will not be subject to that any longer. No longer will those making consequential decisions for the people of the UK be beyond the reach of accountability. The UK has voted to take back control of our own affairs, and that is a positive thing.
I respect the fact that for many in the UK, and in Northern Ireland, the decision to leave the European Union is one that they do not welcome. I understand why some desired to remain within the EU and voted that way. I was not one of them. It is my hope in the years to come that those of us who desired to leave the EU will be able to win round some of those who wanted us to remain, as the benefits of being outside the EU become apparent.
There has been a hysterical response — and we have heard some of it here today — in some quarters to the decision to leave. From what we have heard in the media, you would imagine that the sky is about to fall in. Well, I can tell all Members: relax, the sky is still in place, it has not come down just yet. You would also imagine that the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are about to make their appearance in the aftermath of this vote. It is not going to happen.
Many commentators seem to be on a mission to talk the United Kingdom down. We are, apparently, too poor and too weak to make our own way in the world. In my view, and in the view of my party, the UK is a strong country, with the fifth biggest economy in the world.
We can, and will, thrive outside the European Union. What we do not need right now is the sort of hysterical response that we are getting from that quarter over there.
Yes, it is the case that the UK will face significant challenges in the months and years ahead. Political leaders in Northern Ireland will need to think carefully about issues such as the status of the border with the Republic of Ireland and our trading relationships with countries around the world.
Now is the time for cool heads. We need a cross-party approach to consider carefully how we in Northern Ireland can best thrive outside the European Union. We need to be willing to listen to the wisdom of those who desired a "Remain" outcome —
I have been listening to the debate since I came into the Chamber. Really, we are listening to a lot of grandstanding. We are listening to a lot of people who are saying that this is a victory for the ordinary person on the street and the ordinary person in society, and everything else. I am confused, and I do not know what people out there are thinking when they are listening in, if they are listening in, or will be listening to this later. The people who we should be talking about in the Chamber today are those who live in the North of Ireland. We should be talking about the people who voted to remain, not those who voted to leave, because the people who elected us and who we represent are the people who live in the North of Ireland, and they voted to remain. That said, I want to break this down to the actual realities, because sometimes a dose of reality is needed in a debate like this.
This morning, I visited a community organisation in west Belfast. It has services for children with severe disabilities and complex needs. It helps to support the families of those children as well. It is organisations and groups like that and the services that they deliver that will be impacted, not the people that you are grandstanding about or the great empire that you are talking about. It is about ordinary people on the street: children with disabilities and their families, women's organisations and community organisations right across the piece in constituencies represented by everyone in the Chamber.
We know that the cuts that have already come to those community and voluntary organisations will be worse after this result. Do you really believe — does anybody in the Chamber believe — that the money that will not go to Europe will come here? Does anybody seriously believe that? Look at the Tory austerity programmes and policies that have already been put in place: how can anyone seriously get up today and say that the community services that will go because structural funds, Peace funds and the ESF have gone will be replaced? I certainly do not believe that, and I am not convinced by anything that I have heard today.
I just want to touch on the voluntary and community sector. Peace moneys have been here since 2007, and we thought that they would be here until 2020 at least, although they might not now. Those moneys were to build positive relationships between our communities. We saw young people, women's organisations and local communities availing themselves of them. They helped to build spaces for people to come together, even in constituencies like West Belfast, and I see Members on other Benches who represent West Belfast.
There was a small youth organisation, R City, from the Hammer on the Shankill and Ardoyne. Those two sets of young people came together in a neutral place, and they went out to South Africa to help other underprivileged children and those less fortunate than themselves. My DUP colleague, who was junior Minister at the time, and I went out to visit the organisation. Some of those young people, who were 15 and 16 years of age, had never come together to meet somebody from a different community background. That money brought those young people together in that space so that they could go out and help people in a different country.
I think that it will. A lot of the victims and survivors money comes from Europe as well. This will impact really seriously on ordinary people. I plead with people in the Chamber to speak with a united voice and to show leadership. Communities and families are very concerned about their services, and people from ethnic minority backgrounds are very concerned. I make a plea that we speak with a unified voice.
I thank the Member for giving way. I pay tribute to Alan Waite and the people who work on that project. Does the Member really think that the speech that she has just delivered provides him, his colleagues and the young people on the project with any comfort? Is she not raising fears as her colleague to her right did when she was speaking? We should be playing them down and giving people certainty and surety, not raising people's concerns.
It is appropriate that we have this debate today. It is a shame that it is the Opposition who have brought it to the Floor: this matter affects all of us. It is perhaps the most serious issue to face the Assembly during its entire existence; indeed, it is perhaps the most serious issue to face the UK since the Second World War. Let me also be clear that I accept that this is a UK-wide vote, and we have to respect the outcome, no matter what position we took on the referendum. We have to deal with the consequences and implications that flow from it.
Equally, it would be wrong to work on the basis that the UK is a unitary state and we are all now lumped in together on where we go and what the future is. Look at the very name of the UK — the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are familiar with the fact that, for example, we have separate football teams — as an aside, let me say, "Well done" to Northern Ireland; I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the team on its outstanding success in the Euros — and we have the reality of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland is a kingdom with its own separate history, and they have now established a principle that they can do things differently. In Northern Ireland, we are very much a place apart, particularly in the context of our land border on the island of Ireland. We also have our very particular constitutional settlement based on the Good Friday Agreement, with a three-stranded set of relationships and, importantly, the ability of the people of Northern Ireland to determine their future through the principle of consent. To be accurate, that is framed only in terms of the issue of whether we are part of the UK or a united Ireland, but I make the point to stress that we have the ability to take our own decisions and are a separate place in how we are seen by the UK as a whole, the European Union and the wider world.
The consequences and implications of Brexit will be massive and far-reaching for Northern Ireland, the UK as a whole, the island of Ireland and, indeed, the rest of the European Union. A lot of dominoes could fall over the coming months and years. We have set ourselves on a path, but we do not know our destination. Certainly, staying in the European Union had a certain risk and uncertainty, but that is nothing like where we find ourselves today.
I hear comments from people, most recently Lord Morrow, about the importance of taking control. That was the mantra of those who advocated taking us out of the European Union. Let us be clear: no one is in control. We have an absolute mess. We have Boris Johnson scrambling around, as one commentator put it, trying to find the pin to put back into the hand grenade that he has set off. There is no leadership whatever, and no one is taking control of the situation. There was no plan before for what would happen in the case of a vote to leave, and there is no plan today for where we are going.
No, I need to press on. Let me also be clear about the argument that this is about the ordinary people versus the elites or the Establishment. We have had a lot of comments that have been very disparaging of people who voted to stay in: they are ordinary people as well. This is, fundamentally, a battle within the Tory Establishment. It is not the Establishment versus the people; this is a fight within the Tory Establishment, with the people of the UK as their plaything.
I thank the Member for giving way. When I was on the referendum programme on the night that the votes were being counted, the very first thing that I said was this: "I love my country, and I believe that the people who voted to remain love their country as well". I do not think that anyone will be able to point to anything that either I or any of my colleagues have said that disparages people who voted to remain.
At the start of the Member's comments, he referred to the victory of the ordinary people: the people on the other side of the argument are also ordinary people. Hopefully, that addresses that.
Let me come to the crux of the issue of where we find ourselves as an Executive and an Assembly. This is for the DUP in particular: Northern Ireland has voted to remain. That is a matter of fact. We are also a separate entity in the context of the overall UK. There is an issue for the First Minister as to whether she and her party will recognise those special circumstances in how we move ahead. Arising from that, will there be the capacity in the Executive —
I need to move on, sorry. Will there be the capacity in the Executive and the Assembly to argue for Northern Ireland in taking our special circumstances into account?
Will there be any capacity to seek special modifications or recognition of any special status for Northern Ireland? Those are issues that are very much on the minds of the people and business community of Northern Ireland today.
Let us be clear that there are many, many issues for us to address: access to the single market, which, let us not kid ourselves, is the single biggest reason why companies want to invest in Northern Ireland; the future of our public finances, which are already precarious; and the fact that we face a shrinkage of the Northern Ireland economy. For the benefit of Lord Morrow, the reason why we are saying that we are the sixth largest economy rather than the fifth is that, with the "Leave" vote, France overtook the UK overnight. It has implications for the Good Friday Agreement and for where our border will be in terms of the free movement of people and goods. These are all issues that the Executive have to take —
The Ulster Unionist Party respects the wishes of the British people, whilst clearly recognising that Northern Ireland and Scotland have, by a considerable majority, voted to remain in the EU. It is clear that a significant constitutional crisis, the like of which the United Kingdom has rarely seen, is occurring. Indeed, the turmoil in the country, the markets, and the palpable lack of confidence being shown in our political system are undermining Northern Ireland and, in particular, our economy. We have already heard from many business leaders that there will be a slowdown in investment and a shutting down of the flow of FDI until confidence in the UK is restored.
What we do know is that, when the United Kingdom's economy slows down, the Northern Ireland economy stalls or goes into deep recession. We hope that we are wrong, but hope is no basis for planning, helping to secure and retain jobs, and restoring confidence. We also know that, over the coming months and years, the economy of Northern Ireland will be very low on the priority list of the United Kingdom Government, especially as the issues of Scotland, a possible general election, gaining trading arrangements with the EU and restoring faith in the United Kingdom political system will take up the majority of our mainland politicians' time. We must act now to take control of our economy in the best interests of Northern Ireland.
As a party, we call on the Northern Ireland Executive urgently to enact discussions and think about legislating to help to recover confidence in our business sector, especially for our manufacturing, agribusiness, tourism and retail sectors and, above all, our many small to medium-sized enterprises. Rather than just stating the obvious and rapidly growing problems, we ask that some of these proposals are given full consideration. We ask the Executive, particularly the Economy, Infrastructure and Finance Ministers, to consider talking to the Bank of England and the Treasury to look to gain some access to infrastructure support funds. We can look at the amount of quantitative easing that has already been passed to the banks, which is in the region of £250 billion. We, as Northern Ireland, should be making a special case to look for additional funding to be able to get us through this situation. We need to stimulate our economy. We should be looking immediately at tax reductions, particularly corporation tax, stimulating our tourist sector and scrapping things like air passenger duty. We know that those may not be devolved matters, but the situation has changed, and we need to look forward.
We could be improving support for our retail sector and looking at taking on the initiatives that the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has raised about retail business rate relief. We should also start the process of easing our renewable energy requirements for our energy industry to reduce the cost of energy in Northern Ireland. That might be a benefit of us coming out of the EU.
We need to take immediate provision to invest in our universities. We have already heard their vice chancellors talking about the £55 million black hole. We need to be preparing Northern Ireland to be as competitive as possible, particularly since we are heading into such difficult times. We should be looking to see how we can fast-track infrastructure developments across the board. We need to make Northern Ireland competitive. If we do not do it, nobody else will. I would like the Executive, particularly the First Minister and deputy First Minister — thank you very much for coming in, deputy First Minister — to put Northern Ireland first. If we do not fight for the Northern Ireland economy, nobody else will.
What has become very clear is that the United Kingdom has spoken conclusively. I accept that there were different views and different arguments and that some of the arguments on either side may not have been presented as well as they could. However, the United Kingdom has spoken. This was not an individual country referendum; it was a United Kingdom referendum, and it has spoken, so it is now incumbent upon every politician to follow the people's instructions. The result is clear, so now is the time for all of us to unite and seize what I believe will be a golden opportunity for all of the people of the United Kingdom.
We do not need to worry about some of the fears that were out there. The Chancellor was out this morning: there is not going to be an emergency punishment Budget. I do not think that I have heard any air-raid sirens: there is not going to be world war III.
I will in a moment. We are not going to see our economy significantly damaged, given the opportunities that are opening up. As I understand it, when we joined the European Union, it had 36% of the world's economy; today, it has 17%. The United Kingdom — our United Kingdom — which has voted to take back control, set its own taxes and free itself to make laws that serve the people of the UK, is one of only two of the current 28 members of the European Union that do more trade with the rest of the world than with the EU. So, now is the time.
To pensioners, I say that, in an ageist way, older people have been discriminated against and derogatory things have been said about you. I am sure that I am not alone in having heard derogatory remarks such as, "These people who are voting do not have long to live" — disgraceful comments.
We should remember that, while youth unemployment is falling in Northern Ireland, we seem to want, according to the Member opposite, to be shackled with the youth unemployment of Greece, at 48·9%; Spain at 45·3%; Croatia at 40·3%; Italy at 39·1%.
Seriously? At 13·4%, by the official figures of the UK of under-25s, we want to fail our people in the way that others have been failed by the European Union? I do not think our young people will buy that argument.
I thank the Member for giving way. The danger of quoting statistics. Will he also, if he has the list of youth unemployment figures, quote the figures from the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Austria and also, just outside the EU but part of the single market, Switzerland?
I thank the Member for giving way. Would he agree with me that there has been an awful lot of negativity from those who lost the referendum, and although we can understand that some people are very disappointed with the result and can empathise with them, should our focus now be that, as the result has been declared, everybody should accept it and look in a positive way at how we can build an even better country?
Absolutely. We need to move forward positively. What has the BDI, the German equivalent of the CBI, told us today? Let us just take a moment, "Free trade will continue; access to the single market will continue". The only thing that we seem to be freed from is the sclerotic and opaque legislation of the corpus of European Union law from which there can be no appeal.
It is a golden opportunity for the United Kingdom, but let me thank the older people of this country. Because while others may choose to be derogatory about them, it was the older people of this country who founded and built our National Health Service; it was the pensioners of this country who won two world wars; they built our industry and made the UK the fifth largest economy in the world. Is anybody telling me that, with an economy to the value of, I believe, £2·31 million sterling, we cannot build a future for our young people?
Is anybody telling me that, with the third largest defence capability on this planet, we are not capable of defending our own people?
I am grateful to the Member for giving way. A Member from Belfast South said that the people she has been speaking to have all been in agreement with her that this is a dreadful thing. Is that not exactly what was wrong with the "Remain" campaign: you talked only to people who agreed with you?
We heard a great deal this afternoon about uncertainty due to the result of last Thursday's referendum. Arguably, there is no sector more impacted than agriculture. The real problem is the uncertainty. Our farmers, and consequently our rural communities, have no idea of the outworkings or implications of this result. We raised this time and again throughout the referendum campaign, saying that those campaigning to leave had not outlined their plan for the agriculture sector upon an exit from the European Union.
We got platitudes that our farmers would, of course, still receive subsidies, but there was no information on what those subsidies might comprise. Taking into account that 9% of the total CAP funding from the EU to Britain and the North comes here to the Six Counties, it is clear that those subsidies are a very significant concern to farmers here. It seems that we are now in a situation where there is no plan and we have no idea what the future will hold for the sector.
There will obviously be a period when negotiations will take place, and we are being assured that, during that time, the funding that was committed will remain in place. That funding is very significant, including some £1·9 billion of CAP funding and rural development programme funding. The problem is that we do not know when that period of negotiation will begin or how long it will last. Therefore, we do not know how long those funds be available.
It is important to reiterate how much our farmers rely on funding that the EU affords them. There were some £236 million in direct payments annually. Without those direct support payments, farm incomes would have been negative last year and in three of the previous five years. Any reduction in direct support would leave many of our farmers in severe financial difficulty, with very negative implications for agricultural —
We were certain that the direct payments would remain until 2020 in any situation.
I have not even touched on the impact on the rural sector. The last rural development programme had a very positive impact on our rural communities, with those communities able to access funding for community projects and rural infrastructure. The new rural development programme offered even greater potential, and we are now uncertain about how long that will last. Planned community programmes will likely suffer or could become untenable.
Now that we are looking at an exit from the EU there are other significant issues that need to be addressed, including legislative arrangements and trade arrangements etc, which affect all sectors, including agriculture. It should be pointed out that, although not part of the EU, Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein etc, as part of the European Economic Area, have to comply for trade purposes with a range of food safety, environmental and veterinary legislation.
A major change has taken place —
I thank the Member for giving way. Does she accept that Norway and Switzerland are first and second in the Legatum Prosperity index? They rejected the EU by 79% and 82% respectively.
My concern is with the North of Ireland and the issues for our farmers.
A major change has taken place over the last few days, and the uncertainty that has resulted has already affected our economy severely. It was mentioned earlier that it may have a short-term positive impact on export prices, but, in the longer term, the uncertainty will result in many farmers reconsidering their future in the industry, and that may impact on production. We need direction, and we need some certainty for all sectors of our society.
I feel that I have to reiterate for the benefit of some people why I bought into the European project. We have to clarify to ourselves why, in the first instance, it was set up. It is the world's largest international peace process. Fundamentally, that is what was at stake. As Europe was ravaged after two world wars, people and leaders saw the need to come together in the spirit of peace and reconciliation, and, ultimately, in the spirit of accommodation of difference. In the week that is in it, with the anniversary of the Somme, I do not see any jocularity in anybody thinking that a world war is something to make jokes about. I feel that the spirit — the true spirit — of the EU is as important today as it was on previous occasions since its foundation.
I thank the Member for giving way. Will he agree with me that it was never the case that "Remain" argued that an exit from the EU would lead to world war III? It was simply that we stated — quite correctly, as the Member said — that it had made a tangible contribution to stability and peace in Europe over the past number of years.
I thank the Member for making that comment. It is a crucial one. Members may not appreciate that, but that is the way that it is and the way that I see it. That is why, along with —
Sorry, but I have other comments to make.
That is why I see it as being important for stability, important as a social driver and important for cultural accommodation and diversity within our communities. That stability is crucial. The fact is that 440,707 people in Northern Ireland bought that. They saw the importance of stability. They saw the importance of the future and of buying into it.
There are a number of other facts that we need to solidify around the Chamber. As a direct consequence of Thursday's vote, the UK slipped into sixth place as an economy, we saw the run on the currencies, and we have heard about firms moving their location. On that point, I sat as Chair of the Enterprise Committee and took evidence on the important issue, as it was then, of corporation tax. Many of the people who gave evidence to that Committee, including key stakeholders and potential business investors and the like, saw access to the European markets on mainland Europe as a key factor in their making a decision to invest here. Those are the important things.
We have also seen the consequences of people taking a two-way bet by getting a further passport. Indeed, I have noticed people from all backgrounds doing that. The biggest lie of the lot, however, was the one about the £350 million, some or all of which was to go to the health service. Already, two of the authors of that misleading part of the campaign, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, have backed off from it. People bought that lie. They had concerns and they bought that lie, and now it has turned out to be exactly that.
On the economy and stability, a key element of exports from the North and of cooperation here is the rest of the island. I will just quote a person who came up to me. Now, I would hardly go as far as to call him a left-wing radical. He is a lorry driver. He said to me, "Patsy, am I back to this stupidity of having to line up at the border for a couple of hours to get clearance on my delivery documents if I am travelling down to County Clare?". He often travels there. That is a question from someone who is hardly a member of the ruling political elite.
I will move on to other elements. One young mum came to me on Friday morning in tears, thinking about the future of her kids and the stability of the society that she was looking at now. Was she one of the elite, a lefty liberal, or a member of the political establishment that has been referred to? No, I do not think so. I am talking about small farmers concerned about single farm payments; I am talking about people who saw opportunities under the local action group (LAG) programme to develop projects in our rural communities to offset the problems and difficulties that they are having with world trade prices for their beef and milk. The little man is deeply concerned about the instability that has been brought about by this. Students are concerned about the Horizon 2020 programme. What about Peace moneys for community groups? I attended the opening of a mental health charity on Friday morning. One third of its project money comes from the —
Everyone in Northern Ireland — certainly everyone in here — purports to be a democrat. We should reflect on what that means. There is a responsibility on everyone to accept democratic decisions. Some, from their comments, appear to dispute the referendum decision. I remind everyone that, in the Belfast Agreement, it was agreed that Northern Ireland would remain in the United Kingdom until the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise. I accept that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future of the economy of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom because of the decision; nevertheless, it is democratically accepted that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and will remain so. We have to accept the decision that was taken in the national United Kingdom referendum, irrespective of what side of the argument anyone was on. We need to get away from the futile argument of whether it will apply here or in Scotland. It will apply here. Let us move on and try to get the debate onto the more constructive ground of how we must react.
Northern Ireland businesses and their employees need clarity and certainty, and they want to know what can be done to give that to them. We need to accept that the decision has been taken and get on to the debate about what future measures come in. What else can we do to provide protection? Some 40% of our exports in the United Kingdom — there is no reason to think that it is any different here — go to the EU. We must ensure that those companies continue to export and to sell their goods and that employees will still be employed. Let us get away from the futile argument that there has been here.
I thank the Member for giving way. Is it not important for the House, and, indeed, the country, to remember that, just because we have left the European Union, we are not severing all ties with it? It is still going to be an important trading partner. Further to Mr McGlone's comments, we can still have cooperation and can foster good relationships with the European Union, even though we are outside it.
I will come to that later. It is not just about the firms exporting in Northern Ireland. For anybody who deals with a firm that exports to Europe, their business could be affected if we do not get stable grounds for business in Northern Ireland. For those who trade with others, there could be implications for their business.
Equally, there are ramifications for the many organisations in Northern Ireland that have, to date, received European grants, such as the social fund, the Peace fund, the regional development fund and funding for the rural community. There needs to be greater clarity and certainty going forward. What are the implications for those? We also have the particular issue in Northern Ireland of the land border. There is considerable trade across that land border. Whether it is Caterpillar in Larne selling a major generator to a company in the Republic of Ireland or a small farmer selling some of his milk to a creamery in Monaghan, there are possible implications. We need to ensure that trade will continue and that people will continue to be employed in Northern Ireland. Enough about decisions in the past; the decision has been taken. We now need solutions so that trade can occur and companies can continue in business.
We must not dwell on the past. We must look at what the future arrangements will be and at what will be best from a United Kingdom and Northern Ireland perspective, and we must try to give reassurance. I draw Members' attention to a paper from Dr Richard North and Robert Oulds of the Bruges group, entitled 'The Market Solution'. It discusses the need for compromise and for staging posts in their ideal future solution. There are choices available, but anyone here has to recognise that it takes decades to get a bespoke agreement with the European community.
Look at the recent trade agreement with Canada; and the Swiss model has transformed over years. Are we looking for a Swiss model or for a Norwegian model? We will probably have to accept something off the shelf that will come reasonably quickly or else it will take years and years, which we cannot afford. We have to accept what there is in some of these models; there are things that some people will not like. We will have freedom of trade, which is essential for our companies and for business, but there will also be freedom of movement of people, some of which has been opposed. There is also the issue of having to pay a significant tax for access to Europe.
We need solutions and we need to move this forward. While we have been speaking, the pound is now at a low. It has gone down further and it is now at €1·20. This is affecting businesses and real jobs in our economy, and we need solutions. We need to get away from futile arguments and get solutions that will help our companies and businesses and protect jobs for the future.